OK, this is the danger of branding.
This review will not be about how Batman Begins is terrible. It’s not a terrible film, especially when we consider some of the other media related to Batman. What I am saying is that Batman Begins is profoundly overrated and has not aged well.
When Batman Begins was released, it was the geek media equivalent of Nixon’s resignation. The long national nightmare was over and we were from the tyranny of bat nipples, ice puns, crotch shots, and some of the worst casting decisions ever made. Nolan was someone who would “get” Batman and wanted to “make him real and gritty.” Compared the barrage of neon that had become Gotham, we were all very grateful.
And Nolan finally did make the great Batman film with 2008’s The Dark Knight. Problem was this was still 2005. Batman Begins, despite some great performances and a strong third act, could not shake the feeling of pointlessness present.
Batman Begins tells Batman’s origin story for the three people who don’t know it. We see the death of his parents, which had not been seen before except in every other piece of Batman related media ever. We see Bruce Wayne’s training with Ra’s Al Ghul and his League of
Assassins Shadows, which no one ever really cared about. We see the corrupt crime families of Gotham and how they had bought off the entire police force. And we see how Batman feels Gotham, despite all of its flaws, can be redeemed.
All of these things had already been explored and were hinted at in other works. But there’s a problem with this approach. Actually, there are two problems.
The first is with Batman as a character – he’s incredibly boring. Most heroes are – they will always do “the right thing” no matter what their motivation is and no matter what they have to sacrifice. Batman actually does struggle quite a bit with what he does and, in Batman Begins, there are moments when the goals of Batman and Ghul overlap. But Batman is so introverted that he never shows what he is thinking. He lets the even more boring Bruce Wayne do all the emoting.
I wasn’t going to mention the performances, but now is as good a time as any. Christian Bale made an excellent Batman, but a poor Bruce Wayne. He essentially uses Wayne as a disguise, someone who is deliberately bumbling. This might be fine, but especially in this film, it becomes a distraction. There is never a sense that Wayne is a good businessman or even a good playboy. Any time there is any competence shown, that is Batman without the mask. It’s a very difficult trick to pull off (only Kevin Conroy has ever done it, and he had the benefit of only having to worry about the voice) but considering Batman Begins is all about Batman and Wayne, this problem becomes that much more apparent.
The second biggest problem with Batman Begins is one that is shared with all prequels. This wasn’t really a prequel to anything, granted, but we still had that problem. Characters work better when they remain mysterious. If see how a horror movie villain came to wield the chainsaw, he becomes far less scary. When we see a hero learn how he acquired his skills, he loses his larger than life status. Are we really being served when we learned that Batman is a ninja who has a few cool gadgets? We already knew that.
There’s a lot to like about Batman Begins. The performances are good (Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow was utilized well , Morgan Freeman was amazing as Lucius Fox, and again, I do like Bale’s Batman), the third act is a nail biter, and the film takes the character seriously. But it just can’t shake the feeling of being a retread. I needed more, and Batman Begins didn’t give it to me.
Just a year later, Casino Royale would use a similar approach on another classic hero with better results. But unlike Batman, there was not a lot of time devoted to how Bond developed his skills and became a master spy. We do see how Bond treated his first big assignment and how it shaped him into the free wheeling, womanizing assassin that we know now. And it worked because we did get a sense of the Bond but also saw how he was vulnerable. It was also something that we’ve never explored about the character. Batman’s origins are well established as are his motivations. Even his vulnerabilities have been explored, especially in regards to how he cannot save everyone in the city. Batman Begins feels like buying a Ferrari, only to continuously drive it to the convenience store nearby. Surely, with such great equipment, there’s a more interesting journey to be had?
Batman Begins is not a bad film. But it is no longer a representative of what a Batman movie needs to be. A Batman cannot focus on Batman alone – it’s all about the relationship with the villains and the city. Batman Begins tells a story we already know and lacks the central conflict that made The Dark Knight work. Seek that out if you want to see Batman. Batman Begins should only be used to kill time if it’s ever on FX or something.